Monday 4 May 2015

The Academic Friends of Israel

Why do only 259 people "like" the Board of Deputies of British Jews?

With over 75% of the internet population in America on Facebook, social media is becoming more  and more influential in shaping opinions throughout the world and especially about Israel.  Social media also takes up a lot of one's time, as some of us are constantly checking  Facebook and Twitter for the latest news.

Later this month the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BOD) will elect a new President. The role of the Board of Deputies, which was established in 1760, is to protect Jewish life in Great Britain.  To maintain its position as the leading representative body for Anglo-Jewry, the Board of Deputies has like everyone else a website, a Facebook page and a Twitter account.  Last summer's fighting in Gaza between Israel and Hamas war highlighted how powerful a propaganda tool social media had become. For example the posting  by Amnesty International UK  "Gaza : Stop the arms, Stop the killing " had  32,000 "likes" and 13,500 retweets.  At the time I thought, "Wow, with all those retweets and "likes"  this certainly gets your message out there."  

With this in mind I looked at the number of "likes" on the Facebook pages for a selection of both pro-Israel and Pro-Palestinian  organisations. The results of my survey are certainly not a foolproof guide to their popularity and reach, as one can "like" more than one organisation and the figures can be massaged.

The number of "likes" are important because if you go to a Facebook page looking for information, a large number of "likes" could influence whether you accept or not the information displayed on the page as correct.

If  you or your organisation have a large number of "likes" you can be a force to be reckoned with. On the other hand if the number of "likes" on your page is minimal you are in trouble especially if you are a large organisation.

This is what I found, it's not a complete survey but it raises a number of questions.(figures downloaded on 26 April 2015)

Pro-Palestinian organisations

Palestine Solidarity Campaign                   397,000 "likes"   
The Stop the War  campaign                     112,000 "likes"
Friends of Al Aqsa                                      351,000 "likes"
War on Want                                                29,000 "likes "

Pro-Israel organisations

Sussex Friends Of Israel                             14,500 "likes" 
Campaign Against antisemitism                   7,100  "likes"
Zionist Federation                                        2,000  "likes"
Jewish Leadership Council                             422 "likes"
The Board of Deputies of British Jews            259 "likes"

My first reaction to these figures was to question whether the figures for both the pro-Palestinian and the Anglo-Jewish organisations are genuine, as there is such a disparity between the two.  Could it be true that only 259 people "like" the Board of Deputies  and that the number of people who "like" the Palestine Solidarity Campaign  (PSC) are  more than the total number of Jews in Britain. Then I looked again at Amnesty International UK and found that they only have  235,728  "likes". This poses the question are the PSC's figures genuine or not? Is it realistic to say that they have more supporters and reach than Amnesty International UK ? If these figures are correct and the PSC has more support than Amnesty International  then we are in serious trouble- who is responsible for dealing with this? Who should? Are the people who "like" them mainly Muslims or the general public? I am no lover of Amnesty International but what does this say about British society today?

According to the PSC annual review, "The number of people ‘linking’ PSC on Facebook rose from 60,000 before summer with 18.6 million people being reached in one week alone." Was increase in the number of "likes" solely the result of the Gaza war? If you wanted information about Israel and the war last year you didn't go to the Board of Deputies website but elsewhere.

Are the  259 "likes" for the Board of Deputies a reflection of them being out of touch with Anglo Jewry and social media?  The  Jewish community certainly thought last summer that the BOD did very little to support them and Israel. Why do the Sussex Friends of Israel, have more "likes" than the rest of the community organisations combined? Why is it pro-Israel grassroots  groups such as  Sussex Friends Of Israel and the Campaign Against Antisemitism, both of whom stepped up to the plate last summer when the leaders of Anglo Jewry dithered,  have a significant presence on the Facebook  and Twitter and are able to react to events with direct action?

Consider this, 2,378 people like the Facebook page of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. That's  nearly ten times as many as the UK in a country with only 70,000 Jews  as compared to 280,000 in Britain. 

When it comes to Twitter,  Anglo-Jewry seems to have got their act together a lot better, the PSC has 20,000 followers, the BOD 6000, the JLC 4000 and the Sussex Friends of Israel 8300. 

How is it that the BOD can have 6000 followers on Twitter and only 259 "likes" on Facebook, it doesn't make sense? What I do know is that Facebook and Twitter are very powerful tools when it comes to getting your message across and standing up for Israel. Could it be something to do with the fact that the BOD's primary role is to defend the rights of the Anglo-Jewry and Israel comes a poor second?  They need to acknowledge that the two are inextricably entwined. Maybe they also need a better understanding of how social media works and the need to react immediately?  Whatever the reason the new President of the Board of Deputies will have his or her work cut out to ensure the BOD more actively supports Israel  on social media when the next conflict erupts and they need more than 259 people  to "like" the Board's Facebook page.

Ronnie Fraser
Academic Friends of Israel